Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
David Zellner's heartbreaking and humorous film focusses on an unusual quest
Fuzzy images from an over-watched VHS tape open David Zellner’s fifth feature, which he co-wrote with his brother Nathan. The movie that our protagonist Kumiko is watching, and currently fixated on, is the Coen brothers' Fargo. The focus on that film's claim to be a true story points to the urban legend that inspired this one. It's a unique, funny and ultimately crushing descent into the deep well of loneliness, that cannily blurs the lines between fantasy and reality.
Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Pacific Rim) plays Kumiko, a young single woman who lives with Bunzo, her pet bunny, and who longs for adventure. Inspired by her favourite film she flees Tokyo for the bitterly cold snowscapes of Minnesota in search of the lost fortune buried by Steve Buscemi's Carl Showalter at the end of Fargo. It may be difficult for some to fathom Kumiko’s deluded actions and seemingly wilful self-destruction, but the backward attitudes demonstrated by her boss, mother and colleagues toward her lifestyle make her escape from her situation, and from reality, somewhat understandable.
Kikuchi turns in a performance that is stripped back and almightily moving. There’s a skill to finding humour in the darkness and the Zellner brothers and Kikuchi certainly possess it. Whether Kumiko is wrapped up in the videotape from her broken VHS, which she sniffs and flushes down the toilet, or wandering along the American highway in her armour, which consists of a duvet fashioned into a poncho, there’s an abundance of wit to defuse the melancholy.
At one point in her obsessive quest, Kumiko attempts to steal a library book of maps, and a kindly security guard asks her, 'Why don’t you print a map from the internet?' Her old-school methods echo those from 80s kids' movies, she’s like a lone Goonie with her stitched canvas map, someone who has decided to opt out of the digital world.
This layered, expertly edited and visually stunning effort from the Zellners embraces the outsider spirit while creating something with universal resonance and ample appeal.
Selected release from Fri 20 Feb.